A collaborative approach gives community building the best chance for success
Since its inception, FutureHeights has provided tools for citizens to become more engaged in their community, bring innovative ideas forward to confront our challenges and have a greater voice in civic life. Cleveland Heights is a city of neighborhoods, and it is only with strong, vibrant neighborhoods that our city will be able to sustain itself and remain a desirable place to live and work.
This year, FutureHeights has applied for Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funding through the City of Cleveland Heights to help support the addition of a staff member who can oversee a community-building program. Through this program, FutureHeights would support existing neighborhood groups and assist new ones in forming. We would train neighborhood residents in neighborhood asset mapping, data analysis and resident engagement, to enable them to create priorities for their own neighborhoods.
The city is also increasing its emphasis on neighborhoods, and its planning staff has proposed using CDBG funds for a Neighborhood Wellness Program that will examine census data and create a wellness assessment for each neighborhood. The city’s process would be modeled after one undertaken by Champaign, Ill., that rates each neighborhood on certain criteria and crafts plans to address areas in which a neighborhood underperforms. FutureHeights would anticipate complementing the city’s data-driven process with our resident-engagement process as an ideal effort to create a more comprehensive neighborhood plan for a particular neighborhood.
Our approach is strength-based and resident-driven. Our community-building philosophy is based on an approach known as ABCD, Assets-Based Community Development, which asks neighborhood residents to identify the strengths they have and devise strategies that build upon them. For example, rather than defining the Cedar Fairmount neighborhood as an area that lacks easy highway access, the neighborhood should focus on the fact that it is in close proximity to University Circle. Likewise, the Noble neighborhood has an abundance of affordable housing and good transit connections. Our approach recognizes the uniqueness of our neighborhoods, and encourages residents to craft solutions to neighborhood challenges by building on existing assets, allowing for the greatest chance of success.
We believe community engagement needs to be part of the process from the beginning. Only when engaged residents are driving the process will we be able to create neighborhood plans that will be successful. Residents will feel ownership of the plan and its objectives because they actively participated in creating it. They will ensure that the focus remains on priorities that are important to them. They will not allow a plan to sit on a shelf.
Our challenges are great in Cleveland Heights, and our resources are limited. We are hopeful that FutureHeights can be an active partner with the city and can help our residents work cooperatively with the city to create the best possible future for all of us. At the FutureHeights annual meeting, held Aug. 20, City Manager Tanisha Briley stated, “We need a collaborative approach to make a difference in our most challenged areas.” We couldn’t agree more.
Deanna Bremer Fisher
Deanna Bremer Fisher is executive director of FutureHeights and publisher of the Heights Observer.